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Double Agents: 6 Healthy Cooking Tools

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Good-for-You Gadgets

Waffle Iron

No one-trick pony, this gadget isn't just for brunch calorie bombs.

Slim down hash browns. Submerge grated russet potatoes in ice water. Squeeze out excess moisture, form a patty, and place it on a waffle iron sprayed with olive oil. Cook 10 minutes on high. Voila — crispy-on-the-outside potatoes with almost no fat and less than half the calories of those found in the supermarket freezer.

Cook a goof-proof omelet. Haven't mastered the flip? Simply heat the iron to high, pour in an egg mixture to fill the tray, lower the lid and watch it puff up in four to six minutes. "Omelets pack protein for staying power for hours," says chef Cheryl Forberg, RD, the nutritionist for NBC's The Biggest Loser.

Fake a falafel. Forget deep-fried chickpeas. Pulse chickpeas, garlic, an egg white, parsley and seasonings in a food processor until smooth, form into patties, and cook on the iron's hottest setting for eight minutes. Top with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and tzatziki.

Parchment Paper

This multitasker does a heck of a lot more than keep cookies from sticking.

Cook perfect fish. Parchment paper makes practically foolproof moist, flavorful fish, Forberg says. Place a fillet in the middle of a large sheet and top with lemon slices, fresh herbs, and a splash of white wine; form a packet, and seal it as airtight as possible; then bake eight to 20 minutes at 400°. "Cooking time depends on the type of fish and the size, but a four-ounce piece of salmon would need about eight to 10 minutes," says celebrity chef Devin Alexander, the author of The Biggest Loser Cookbook series. No dishes!

Crisp up crusts. Who says next-day pizza doesn't taste as good? Prevent the crust from getting soggy by microwaving last night's pie on a piece of parchment paper.

Keep 'em separated. A serving of chicken is three ounces (the size of a deck of cards), a far cry from the pieces of plumped-up poultry we buy in the supermarket. The solution: For quick and easy portions, cut chicken to size, layer with parchment paper, and seal in a ziplock bag before freezing.

More Double Agents

Pastry Cutter

It makes more than biscuits and flaky piecrusts.

Rock some guac. Homemade guacamole tends to be better because it has no additives or fillers. "Squeeze lime juice over the avocado before mashing it with the pastry cutter or it will brown quickly," Alexander says. Tailor guac to your taste by adding minced garlic, finely chopped white onion, fresh cilantro, and/or diced jalapenos.

Create DIY tomato sauce. The jarred variety can contain high-fructose corn syrup and almost triple the sodium of potato chips, says Wendy Bazilian, RD, the author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet. Just roll the cutter back and forth over peeled fresh or canned tomatoes, saute them with garlic in olive oil, and season with herbs and spices for a healthier version.

Chop nuts. With five times the chopping power of a single blade, this time-saver gets the job done quicker. Add the heart-healthy crunchies to oatmeal, yogurt, or muffins. "Or try baked pecan- or pistachio-crusted chicken," Alexander suggests. "If you soak the chicken in low-fat buttermilk overnight to tenderize it, the nuts will just stick."

Cookie Sheets

Don't pull them out only for a batch of snickerdoodles.

Whip up granola. The stuff you make at home has a leg up on the store-bought sort because "you can decrease sugar and fat while increasing fiber and flavor," Bazilian says. Mix steel-cut oats and quinoa (for extra protein), nuts, flaxseeds, maple syrup, canola oil, one beaten egg white, and vanilla in a bowl. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 300° for 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes.

Bake better snacks. When you want to munch something crunchy, try oven-roasted edamame or chickpeas. Toss shelled edamame or rinsed and drained canned chickpeas in olive oil and a medley of spices: cumin, coriander, ginger, and smoked paprika. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 400° for 30 to 40 minutes, or until crunchy.

Make smoothies in seconds. Freeze bite-size pieces of peeled and pitted fruit on parchment paper–lined cookie sheets, then store in freezer bags until you're ready to toss the fruit in the blender. Craving a sweet treat? "Frozen mangoes and bananas whipped in a food processor are amazing as an ice cream substitute," Alexander says.

Secret Multitaskers

Rice Cooker

It's not just for making white rice, a nutritionally inferior starch that's little more than carbs and calories.

Steam 'chokes. Cut off the top third of an artichoke and trim the stem and any thorny tips from the outer leaves. Rub half a lemon over the cut edges to prevent browning. Add three-quarters of a cup of water to the cooker, place the artichoke in the steamer basket (if your cooker doesn't come with one, find a basket with feet that fits), cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes, or until leaves pull off easily. Try this with other veggies, too — carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, you name it! Steaming retains more nutrients than boiling, Forberg says.

Prep good-for-you grains. Cook quinoa or barley to fluffy perfection with the press of a button — no stirring needed. Whole grains can have more than twice the satiating protein and four times as much heart-healthy fiber as white rice, Bazilian says. For a flavor boost, cook them in a mixture of one part coconut milk to two parts vegetable broth or water, suggests Heidi Swanson, a chef and the author of Super Natural Every Day.

Poach fruit. Halve and core or pit peaches or pears, place them in the rice cooker and pour in enough wine or juice to cover. Add a cinnamon stick or orange zest for flavor, cover and cook 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced. Serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar for an elegant low-fat dessert.

Ramekins

Think beyond creme brulee! These cute cups serve up wholesome fare — no blowtorch required.

Build mini meals. Produce individual potpies, mac and cheese, and lasagna (psst — use a circular cookie cutter on lasagna noodles) to keep yourself in check without testing your willpower. Bonus: The dishes go from oven to table, so cleanup is a snap.

Portion out munchies. A four-ounce ramekin holds exactly a half-cup serving of ice cream, so you can use one to eat Ben & Jerry's without polishing off the pint. Or fill it halfway with almonds and dried cranberries for a 150-calorie snack. Studies show that using a smaller serving dish can trick your brain into being satisfied with fewer calories.

Zap an egg sandwich. For a stick-to-your-ribs (not your thighs) breakfast, mist a ramekin with olive oil, add two egg whites, and nuke for 15-second intervals until set, Alexander says. Scrape around the edge with a knife to remove; serve on a whole wheat English muffin with turkey bacon and cheddar.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2013.

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